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close this bookThe Hunger Trap (WFP)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentUnderstanding hunger
View the documentHunger sets poverty traps
View the documentNo skills, no future
View the documentHunger makes poverty intergenerational
View the documentThe response of the World Food Programme

Understanding hunger

The relationship between hunger and poverty is often misunderstood.

First, there is the notion that hunger is only a result of poverty. This notion ignores the reality that for most of the hungry poor, hunger itself is a cause of poverty. Hunger is a constraint to their economic and social development. Hunger and poverty have a two-way relationship. They feed off each other. Ignoring this relationship can lead to inappropriate or inadequate policy responses to the problems of hunger and poverty.

Second, it is often said that the most abundant asset the poor have is their labour, which they can use to earn a living. However, if hunger means that their potential labour power is ineffective, the poor do not really have an asset and will thus remain trapped in hunger and poverty.

Third, assistance to the hungry is often viewed, wrongly, as a mere consumption expenditure. If hunger is a constraint to the development of the poor, its removal is certainly an investment in building self-reliance. For the abjectly poor, the daily struggle of finding food for the family pushes aside any consideration of long-term development. Food assistance can provide a minimum level of short-term food security that is an essential first step to move the hungry poor onto paths of self-reliance. Hunger is the first threshold to cross on the way out of poverty.

Fourth, economic growth that provides lasting benefits to the poor is the surest path to sustainable poverty alleviation. However, for a large number of the hungry poor, there can be no growth without first overcoming today's hunger. These people cannot wait until nutritional benefits trickle down from tomorrow's macro-economic growth. And even if economies grow, the hungry poor are the worst-placed to take advantage of it.